The Frieze of Prophecies

by Correggio

Complesso di San Giovanni Evangelista

A detail of the "Frieze of Prophecies" in the central nave (1519/1523) by Correggio and Francesco Maria RondaniComplesso di San Giovanni Evangelista

The Frieze of the Prophecies was begun early by master Correggio and completed with the collaboration of one or more followers during the summer of 1523.

A detail of the "Frieze of Prophecies" in the central nave (1519/1523) by Correggio and Francesco Maria RondaniComplesso di San Giovanni Evangelista

It unfolds into thirteen sections: a dense succession of episodes, six on each side of the nave, and one in the counter-facade wall.

A scene of the "Frieze of Prophecies" in the central nave (1519/1523) by Correggio and Francesco Maria RondaniComplesso di San Giovanni Evangelista

The "frixeria", defined by some Benedictine chroniclers as "zooforo", is punctuated between one bay and the other by two putti.

All the scenes, in an alternation of color and chiaroscuro passages, depict a prophet to the left,

and a sibyl to the right of the composition, accompanied, by Scenes of Christian (and Jewish) Sacrifice, in fake monochrome relief,

with an altar in which a lamb burns, towards which the officiants converge.

A scene of the "Frieze of Prophecies" in the central nave (1519/1523) by Correggio and Francesco Maria RondaniComplesso di San Giovanni Evangelista

The second episode depicts a pagan Sacrifice, likewise in monochrome, whose shrine bears the inscription “DEO IGNOTO”.

Isaia by Correggio and Francesco Maria RondaniComplesso di San Giovanni Evangelista

The ritual of the Gentiles alludes to the sermon given by St. Paul in Athens. In these notes we recall the prophet Isaiah, who, protagonist in the first bay on the right, the first, is believed to be frescoed, as suggested by the inscription 'Primus et Novissimus' engraved in the marble slab that he carries with him, is revealed to the our eyes in a representation of rare intensity, emphasized by the chromatic brilliance of the red cap that frames the head.

An eloquent image, which, also readable on the floor of the church thanks to the recent restoration recently completed (Autumn 2020), is a harbinger of new critical reflections.

A scene of the "Frieze of Prophecies" in the central nave (1519/1523) by Correggio and Francesco Maria RondaniComplesso di San Giovanni Evangelista

The presence of the Sibyls next to the prophets in the frieze assumes great importance: the classical tradition in the third century AD. it was absorbed by Lattanzio (Lattanzio, 304-313 AD, I, 6, 6-13, Milan 1972) in the Divinae Institutiones; and then taken up by Saint Augustine, (Augustine, De Civitate Dei, Lib. XVIII, chap. XLVI), who welcomed the sibyl inside the city of God in the belief that even the pagans had participated, albeit partially, in the revelation.

The composite reworkings and contaminations of several oracles would continue among Jews and Christians until the sixth century.

A scene of the "Frieze of Prophecies" in the central nave (1519/1523) by Correggio and Francesco Maria RondaniComplesso di San Giovanni Evangelista

At the end of the fifteenth century the Dominican Filippo Barbieri, of Sicilian origin, intervened on the subject: in the corpus of the Discordantiae attributed to him, composed of several brochures, there are the christological vaticles of the sibyls and the Prophets.

The Barbieri, after faithfully reporting what Saint Augustine wrote about the visionaries, added the description of a group of twelve sibyls, giving each one an oracle, prophetic words, dress, appearance and age: with the intent then of giving greater credibility to their prophecies, he instituted a correspondence between each sibyl and its prophets.

Correggio, drawing inspiration from ancient traditions, to Lattanzio and Agostino in particular, describes with originality in the Frieze of the Prophecies prophets and sibyls who in symbolic eloquence are absorbed in silent meditation.

A scene of the "Frieze of Prophecies" in the central nave (1519/1523) by Correggio and Francesco Maria RondaniComplesso di San Giovanni Evangelista

As in the best Cassinese tradition, with this decoration he intended to lead, to the entrance of the church, the faithful in the redemptive path up to the apotheosis of the Ascension of Christ and John in the skies of the dome.

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